Saturday, 21 July 2012

Townsville's Lost Treasures No. 1 - Wintergarden Theatre

I thought I’d start a series of posts about Townsville’s lost treasures – buildings that have disappeared from the cityscape that were once local landmarks or popular places to meet.  I’ll look at places like theatres, hotels, cafes, shops and other once-loved icons.

That block of land next to the Police Station in Sturt Street that’s been vacant for many years, but is now a construction site; was once home to the largest theatre in North Queensland – the Wintergarden. 
Wintergarden Theatre, Townsville, 1943.  Image:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection
Townsville's Wintergarden was one of a chain of Wintergardens built in the 1920s in regional Queensland cities, that included Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Maryborough.  Owned and built by the partnership of George Birch, E.J. Carroll and Virgil Coyle, the Wintergarden theatres were built to conform to a 'tropical theatre concept' and were of an unprecedented size for the time.

The Wintergardens featured carpeted vestibules with dress circles, special balconies and an interior fern garden. Special attention was paid to ventilation and seating was made of slatted timber, all to ensure comfort in the Queensland summer.

Interior view of the Wintergarden, 1926.  Image: CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.
The Wintergarden was home to live performances as well as moving pictures, which later included 'the talkies' - movies with sound. The opening night performance was a production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII by Alan Wilkie's Shakespearean Company. The Wintergarden was officially opened on Saturday, 4th June 1927 by the Mayor of Townsville.  The Townsville Daily Bulletin reported:

We cannot find adjectives and superlatives strong enough to describe the thousand and one innovations of the new Wintergarden Theatre in Sturt Street, which will be opened to-night by His Worship the Mayor (Alderman W.J. Heatley). It is truly the most sumptuous and stupendous theatre ever erected outside the Metropolitan area.
The Wintergarden was sold in the early 1970s and the building was left to decay until it was beyond economic repair. It was hoped that at least the facade of the building could be saved, but when the roof was found to contain asbestos it was deemed beyond saving. On the 8th March 1991, the last vestiges of the building were demolished.


  1. Thanks for your tribute to the Wintergarden Trish. I'm sorry I hadn't read it before writing about the Townsville's Olympia Theatre in Townsville Eye last Saturday, 21/7. I'm half a block out with my location of the Wintergarden in that story (The Ville, p33). I wonder if the developer of office block now under construction on this site would consider a plaque recalling the Wintergarden era. Thomas Virgil Coyle's obituary, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 12/8/1949, p2, suggests scope for further research about his life journey from coach driver to theatre chain partner. Ian Frazer, Townsville Eye

    1. Thanks for your comment Ian. I enjoyed your piece about the Olympia Theatre. Apparently my Grandparents had their first date at the Olympia, in the 1940s. My late Grandfather told me that if the movie was less than exciting, people up the back would throw their pies down the front! He said he once called out to the back row, 'who threw that brick?' Doesn't say much for the pies I guess!

      I agree a plaque to mark the site of the Wintergarden would be great.

  2. I was born in Townsville in 1960(and still live here) and have many memories of the Wintergarden. We lived in Aitkenvale, and as a child we could catch the bus to town, go to Coles and buy some lollies from their lollie display (usually boiled ones as they lasted the longest), buy a ticket to the movies (double feature plus cartoons), catch the bus home, and do it all for 55 cents. My brother John would take vegemite sandwiches with him and save his lolly money. And yes, jaffas were rolled down the floor, but not by us, we liked our sugar too much. Absolutely disgusting that 23 years later after "having to be demolished" still noting is built on the site. Peter Finn, Townsville boy.

    1. Thanks for your comment Peter! Unfortunately, I only remember the Wintergarden as a run down place. And then they pulled it down, so I feel as though I really missed something quite special there.

    2. I went to a QSO recital at the Wintergarden in mid-73. That may have been its last year of operation.

    3. Thanks for the information!

  3. The company's three Townsville cinemas were the Olympia, with 1625 seats, the Wintergarden, 1517, and the Roxy, 1439.